By Lori Basheda

In between riding horses through Iceland and walking long-distance footpaths in Britain, University of California, Irvine professor emeritus of history James Given and his wife Ruth made an important decision: to make a legacy gift to UCI.

Though the Givens’ alma maters include Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford and Yale, their affinity for UCI—and belief in the impact they can have on the university—secured its place in their will.

The couple has created a $500,000 endowment for UCI’s Department of History, to be paid from their estate after both have passed.

The gift will provide travel awards for graduate students in the Department of History. The awards will help students to conduct dissertation research domestically or internationally and to present their research at conferences. 

“Research funds have dried up for graduate students in the last 15 to 20 years,” said Given.

Without money for travel, it is more difficult for students today to do a thorough job researching their dissertation than when Given was in school. He spent a year in London back in the mid-70s working on a dissertation about homicide in England in the 13th century for a doctoral degree in medieval history.

“There was a lot more money available for research and travel then, and also it was a lot cheaper to live in London,” he said.

Endowments at UCI are invested in perpetuity, and only the interest on the fund is spendable. This means that the Givens generous endowment will provide travel funds for several graduate students each year in perpetuity.

“We are incredibly grateful to James and Ruth for their support of our graduate students,” said David Igler, chair of the UCI History Department. “Their generosity will ensure our students are able to travel to conduct research integral to their scholarship and to present their findings at professional conferences.”

Given began his teaching career at the University of Michigan. In 1979 he earned a teaching position at Harvard.

Despite the handsome salary at Harvard, Given is grateful he ended up at UCI. “It was much more interesting than if I had stayed at Harvard. At Irvine, I really felt like I was playing a role, a not insignificant role, in helping to build up a very impressive university.”

Given came to UCI to teach medieval European history in 1984, and stayed for 28 years, until he retired in 2012. During that time, the student body grew from 11,000 to over 30,000, diversity flourished and instruction and research “vastly improved.”

He chaired the Academic Senate one year, from 2001-02. He also represented UCI on the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, which sets undergraduate admissions policy for the entire UC system.

“It was probably the most interesting thing I did,” he said. “There were all sorts of debates about the role of higher education. Public institutions are really central to the higher education project in this country. The U.S. has wonderful elite private schools. But they educate a relatively small population. Public institutions are the ones that really allow access to higher education to people who might otherwise not be able to pursue it.”

Given retired six years ago. His wife wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to her family. They settled in the Columbia River Gorge area just north of Portland.

Ruth Given, who has a master’s in public health from Harvard and a doctorate in economics from Berkeley, left her consulting job in Southern California before making the move.

Now she spends her days taking Russian classes at Portland Community College, as well as piano lessons. She also volunteers with an organization that counsels people on how to navigate Medicare.

James Given has renewed an old interest in horses and has been learning to play the banjo. They also try to get in some skiing and kayaking.

“We have been concentrating on doing things in the outdoors before we get too old to do so,” he said.

Given is 70. His wife is 64.

The couple spends part of their summers abroad, alternating between multi-day horse treks in Iceland and walking some of the long-distance footpaths in Britain.  

“Aside from the fact that we like horses and hiking, both relate to my career as a medieval historian,” Given said.

Photo: James and Ruth Given at the Pen-y-ghent in Yorkshire, England

Gifts & Grants